Art and Experience:

Since the early 2000s, the Oscars have been in a rhythm of awarding darker movies with tinges of death, depression, racism and violence, illustrated by best picture winners such as “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), “Crash” (2005), “The Departed” (2006) and “No Country for Old Men” (2007). They stopped the trend with the uplifting “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), which nearly swept the ceremony, winning eight Oscars, the most of any film since that time. While still dipping into the bleaker stories as did “The Hurt Locker” (2010), “Spotlight” (2016), “12 Years a Slave” (2013) and “Parasite” (stifling income and class inequality) and arguably last year’s “Nomadland,” a global pandemic has likely served up too much heartache and despair for an Academy voter to take. This season, voters are seeking more inspirational and uplifting narratives to reward, something that could give particular films an edge.



Though the critical darling with the most precursor wins, Netflix’s “The Power of the Dog” could be too grim for the Oscars to fully embrace, even if they are set on giving the directors’ prize to Jane Campion. Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” Siân Heder’s “CODA” and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard” encapsulate positive and hopeful vibes and uplifting lessons about humanity that could be send a better message. To a lesser extent, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza” manages to harness joy and laughter, taking place in the back yard of voters’ beloved industry.

Branagh’s portrait of his childhood in Ireland offers a wonderful origin story to the acclaimed writer and director’s love of the movies, which is demonstrated through the whimsical eyes of a child while watching classics such as “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968) in the local cinema. Though the ending brings tears caused by Oscar winner Judi Dench’s final line, “Don’t look back,” the reminder to call your parents is something that viewers could find hard to forget from the Focus Features gem.

Heder’s joyous front-runner for the SAG Award for cast in a motion picture has delighted audiences, and voting members of the guilds have also taken notice of the uplifting family drama. If supporting actor hopeful Troy Kotsur continues to pick up steam, the Apple Original Film can become a feasible alternative in the race.

Green’s refreshing biopic on the upbringing of tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams allows Will Smith not only to deliver one of his finest performances but gain a reaction similar to a former winner “Rocky” (1976) — one that inspires audiences to either start training their kids or believe they can play tennis themselves.

The actors branch, the largest of the Academy, can tilt the scale toward (or away) from a contender.

Source: Variety